There has been one death this year involving an ATV in Newfoundland and Labrador, compared with four at the same point last year, according to the RCMP, which launched the second phase of its ATV safety campaign on Thursday.
With the Victoria Day long weekend ahead, the RCMP picked Thursday to reiterate the importance of ATV safety with an expected increase in ATV activity over the weekend and through the rest of the summer.
Police say there were 17 ATV-related deaths throughout the province in 2020. Since 2018, 38 people have died in ATV crashes in N.L.
"Some crashes happen as a result of rider error. In the wilderness, it's very challenging for law enforcement to establish a meaningful presence on ATV trails," RCMP Staff Sgt. David Ossinger, who is in charge of traffic services, told reporters Thursday.
"More alarming, for police officers, is the reckless and dangerous behaviour we sometimes see near populated areas and on our roads in particular. Chief among these would be impaired driving, and the failure to wear helmets."
Because of the number of ATV-related deaths, said Ossinger, the RCMP has implemented a plan to focus on speeds, use of safety equipment, underage drivers and alcohol use with off-road vehicles.
He said the RCMP is using covert surveillance to crack down on unsafe driving, as outlined in Phase 1 of the campaign, launched in early December. Ossinger said it's unusual for police to resort to covert methods to track ATV offences but the RCMP is trying to avoid high-speed chases if a rider decides to flee.
"If they don't know they are being watched, they are not going to take off on us and try to cause a pursuit," he said.
"The idea here is that the police may be watching and gathering evidence of dangerous driving behaviour in a community, even though a marked vehicle may not be present and local people may be unaware that we're in there."
Ossinger said it's frustrating to know ATV deaths can be prevented, and troubling to see some riders engaging in risky behaviour. He said there have been three successful covert operations since the launch of the initiative in December, and there have been no pursuits using the technique.
Safe riding photos
Phase 2 of the RCMP's social media campaign will run from Thursday through Labour Day weekend, featuring ATV riders in the province driving safely. RCMP Cpl. Jolene Garland said nearly 150 images were submitted by the public, which will be used in future campaigns.
Rick Noseworthy, president of the Avalon Trailways Association, said programs like this work, and he's already seeing results.
"The timing of this is fantastic. It's about awareness. Of course, May 24 is what we call the start of the ATV season. This certainly puts it fresh in people's minds," Noseworthy said.
"This is a fun weekend. Everyone wants to get out, the weather is supposed to be good, but this is the perfect shot-in-the-arm reminder [to] be safe."